The air rushed past my face as I sat in the open doorway of the plane, 15,000 feet above the English countryside. A moment later I’d be freefalling towards the ground at 125 mph. Surely I should be feeling at least a bit anxious?
Here are a few of the anxiety-reducing techniques I’d been doing beforehand…
How not to feel anxious
1. Reframing physical sensations
You know that ‘butterflies in the tummy’ sensation you get when you think about something that makes you feel anxious? Physiologically, it’s the same as the feeling we get when we’re excited.
But, unlike William Shakespeare’s rose, the name we give to that feeling can make all the difference.
If we label the butterflies sensation nerves or anxiety, the feeling will probably grow stronger and more negative. But if we call the feeling excitement, we’re likely to feel a final fleeting frisson as we acknowledge the trigger, before our nervous system returns to normal.
In the week before my skydive I got butterflies every time someone mentioned my jump. But whenever anyone asked if I was nervous I didn’t answer ‘Absolutely terrified!’ Instead I truthfully replied, ‘A bit. But mainly I’m really excited!’
Reframing is one of the simplest yet most powerful techniques I learned when I trained to be a cognitive hypnotherapist.
I encourage my kids to reframe, but I’m also careful to acknowledge authentic emotions. None of these techniques is about slapping a happy face sticker over an empty fuel gauge, but rather transforming negative emotions into more positive ones.
In the case of my skydive, joyfully living life to the full is one of my core values. So transforming my nervousness into excitement was congruent with my authentic self.
2. Power Posing
If I told you that standing like Wonder Woman for two minutes would make you feel more confident and decrease stress, you might be sceptical. But if you’d heard of Amy Cuddy’s research into how our physiology affects our mental state you’d probably give it a try, and you might be surprised at the results.
I tried out power posing last week after listening to Cuddy’s audiobook, Presence. I was amazed how a few minor adjustments in the way I hold my body had such an uplifting effect.
One afternoon Cordie was feeling a bit out of sorts so I invited her to power pose with me. “Two whole minutes?!” she grumbled. I suggested we time ourselves by playing a song on her phone. So there we stood, two wonder women in front of the mirror, jiggling our hips to Enrique Iglesias and giggling our heads off.
3. The Escudero Method
Once upon a time, in another life, I used to attend board meetings with the heads of UK music companies. I noticed in those meetings that whenever a junior employee spoke, they always took a sip of water straight afterwards.
When I later trained as a cognitive hypnotherapist, I discovered why: anxiety gives us a dry mouth.
During my training I also learned a weird hack which, like power-posing, works because of the way the body affects the mind.
The Escudero method was originally developed as a pain control technique by a surgeon who successfully performed dozens of operations without any anaesthesia. It also works wonders when you need a confidence boost.
Luckily I was skydiving with my lovely hypnotherapy tutor, who reminded me of the Escudero method when he noticed me sipping from my water bottle as we waited to be called to our plane. To feel more confident, all you need to do is gather saliva in your mouth. Just as smiling’s been proven to make us feel happier, it’s hard to feel anxious with a well-moistened mouth. Slightly gross, I know, but – hey – if it works…
4. 4-7-8 Breathing
I became a believer in the power of breathing techniques when I (a self-confessed wuss who used to pop a paracetamol at the first hint of a headache) comfortably gave birth to my son at home, without even so much as a whiff of gas and air.
4-7-8 breathing generates a ratio of carbon dioxide to oxygen that relaxes our parasympathetic nervous system and promotes a state of calm. All you do is inhale through your nose for a count of 4, hold for 7, and exhale through your mouth for 8. Rest the tip of your tongue between your palate and your top front teeth as you breathe.
I’ve been using 4-7-8 breathing a lot since I learned it from Simone de Hoogh. It came in very handy as our plane slowly climbed to the 15,000 feet from which I was to freefall.
Do these techniques really stop you feeling anxious?
So did I feel nervous in the moments before I jumped out of a plane and hurtled toward the ground at 125mph for 60 seconds before parachuting down to earth?
Amazingly – I didn’t!
Thanks to these techniques I felt incredibly calm from the second I boarded our plane until the moment I parachuted gently down to earth. See for yourself in this (1 min 25 sec) video. I knew you wouldn’t be able to hear me shout, ‘I love this!’ during freefall, so as you can see from the thumbnail, I used sign language.?
(You can see the full video (5 mins 53 secs) here.)
What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever gone out of your way to do?
How do you deal with anxiety?
Have you ever tried any of these techniques?
I’d love to hear from you!
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